History Lesson: A Royal Wedding in Columbus
On May 16, 1871 Amelia May Parsons – daughter of wealthy Columbus State legislator George McClellan Parsons, married Prince Ernst Manderup Alexander zu Lynar of Prussia. This is one of Columbus’ best documented weddings royal or other-wise and there is a wealth of information to share from a variety of sources that has been mined repeatedly over the years.
Ruth Young wrote about it in her 1936 book on the history of women in Columbus entitled “We Too Built Columbus” and added lots of colorful commentary about the Prince’s attendance at a Peace celebration in Columbus’ South end – better known today as German Village. The South-enders were commemorating the end of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 – 1871 and the Prince took part in the planting of the “Peace Oak” in Schiller Park as part of the pre-wedding festivities. She writes further “The marriage ceremony was attended by attaches of the Imperial German legation in Washington and was celebrated by Bishop McElvaine.”
Bill Arter wrote about it in1969 in his compilation Columbus Vignettes volume III. He wrote “The wedding was held in Trinity Church at 12:30 Pm. By 10:00 AM an immense crowd was being restrained by police. At noon the church was filled with “beauty and fashion enough to drive a man distracted with delight.”
His article, though, added something that had been absent in the early twentieth century re-tellings – a note of snark. He writes “The Cleveland Plain Dealer (1871) editorialized sourly: “Couldn’t Miss May have done just as well nearer home? The Prince will pardon us for saying that to us he seemed inferior looking.” Ouch!
Last year, Teresa Carstensen of the Ohio Historical Society also blogged about it. The dishy columnist she quoted was a special correspondent from the Cincinnati Enquirer named Mr. Jenkins. He dished on everything from the color of the prince’s mustache dye, his supposed Italian ancestry and chiefly the fact that Miss May’s mother was trying to buy her daughter a royal title like the characters out of Edith Wharton’s “The Buccaneers.”
Like many men of the day Prince zu Lynar asked for a $50,000.00 dowry which was balked at by Mr. Parsons even though the Prince himself had promised a dowry of $60,000.00 to Miss Parsons. Amelia’s mother went ahead and paid the $50,000.00 out of her own accounts, which would be the equivalent of about a million dollars today.
All of the reports say that the wedding ceremony was actually a rather tame affair held at Trinity Episcopal Church on East Broad Street without a great deal of royal pomp & circumstance that many in attendance had hoped for. The couple then went on a typically American honeymoon tour of Niagara Falls before returning to Europe where they enjoyed a very contented life with their 3 children and lived happily ever after. The End – right? Well, maybe not.
While many of the histories are concerned about the wedding, few delve into how they met and fell in love. One source from 1921 does and it shines an altogether more sympathetic light on the royal couple.
In researching the wedding for Columbus Underground, I discovered that after the death of Princess Amelia, the agent in charge of the estate she had left for her 3 children, Ernst, Jane and George, sued the United States government to ask for their mother’s fortune back. (The Prince died in 1886 at the age of 52 and the Princess lived until 1920 and died at the age of 67)
As it turns out, Princess Amelia zu Lynar did have a small fortune in cash and real estate in Columbus that was inherited from her folks. Her father was reportedly Columbus’ first millionaire and his home at 156 Parsons Avenue – named to memorialize his father Dr Samuel Parsons – was the spot of the original Columbus School for Girls. Her assets were seized by the United States at the onset of World War I since she was a German by marriage.
This all came to light in a New York Times article dated Dec 18, 1921 with the headline:
“Heirs of Princess Ask for Fortune Back – zu Lynars Sue Government to recover their Mother’s Share in $1,500.000.00 Parsons Estate. Seized During The War. Mother, born in Columbus Ohio, married Prince who was Emperor’s Aid in Franco-Prussian War”
The article went on further to elaborate on the beginnings of the Parsons wealth:
“The American fortune of the Princess arose chiefly from the fact that when the Big Four Railroad was looking for a right of way in Columbus there was a rivalry between her grandfather Dr Samuel Parsons and a neighboring farmer as to whose farm would be chosen. Dr Parsons offered a gift of sufficient land for the site of a station, and the acceptance of his offer made his heirs many years later owners of valuable land in the heart of the city.” Ultimately, though, the case to return the fortune was dismissed in 1923 and the German royals never received their Columbus inheritance.
It was also in this article that I discovered the beginnings of their romance.
Amelia was visiting Paris with her mother in the Spring of 1870, shortly before the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War when she met the Prince as he was attached to the German Embassy in Paris. He must have been quite smitten with her but the war between the two countries began before he could propose marriage. It was further reported that he carried her photograph with him throughout the duration of the short war and during that episode the German Emperor was looking through the Prince’s album one day when he saw her picture and asked about her.
The Prince said:
“That is the lady I love. If I live through this war, I intend to make her my wife.”
The Emperor granted the Prince leave to visit America and marry her after the war with one condition, that the Emperor would be allowed to keep her photograph.
Upon their return to Prussia, the Emperor bestowed upon her the address “Serene Highness.”
So Columbus had its proverbial 15 minutes of royal fame and as the radio personality Paul Harvey would have said – and now you know the rest of the story.
Feature photo of statue of Johann von Schiller in Schiller Park by Ed Eberfield.